Religion and Beliefs
A common division of Vedic ritual into categories as outlined by Jan Gonda in his manual on Vedic religion is: (1) magical rites; (2) domestic rites; (3) funerary rites; and (4) ‘śrauta rituals’. The rituals of the first three categories fit effortlessly into currently widely accepted anthropological categories of rituals in ‘magic and religion’ as described already by James George Frazer (1894, 1900) and of ‘rites of passage’ as described by Arnold van Gennep (1909). Symptomatic for the problematic status of the fourth category, however, is that there is no agreement among specialists on a suitable translation into English of the Sanskrit term for it, śrauta, i.e. literally, ‘based on śruti, i.e., on revealed text’. The texts dealing in great technical detail with these ‘śrauta rituals’ are the Śrautasūtras, where the passages quoted as authoritative śruti (revealed text) are taken from the Brāhmaṇas. Scholars have usually settled down to leaving the term śrauta untranslated or to substituting for it the bland label ‘solemn rites’—as if there would be any reason to believe that ‘magic rituals’, ‘rites of passage’ or ‘funerary rites’ would be performed in a non-solemn or less solemn way than śrauta rituals. The category of śrauta rituals is, in fact, a very precious and unique one, which can perhaps be best characterized as a developed system of ‘contemplative ritual’, in which understanding or seeing things in a certain way (yá eváṁ véda) is part of the crucial ingredients of the ritual. Among several categories of Vedic ritual, it has been precisely this obscure category of śrauta rituals that was by no means incompatible with philosophy and opposed to it, as in much of Western cultural history: as evident from currently available textual sources, ‘śrauta rituals’ have over many centuries accommodated and fostered the early development of both philosophy and scientific thought in India.
In this panel, organized together with the Association for Visual and Digital African, Asian and Australian Studies (ViDiAAAS) in honour of two pioneers in filming Vedic ritual, J.A.B. van Buitenen (1928-1979) and Frits Staal (1930-2012), Vedic ritual is studied, not, as usual, primarily and almost exclusively on the basis of texts, but primarily on the basis of video-recordings of performances, which reveal the structure of Vedic performances in a more easily accessible way.
As for publication, some of our clips will appear on the "Vedic Ritual" channel set up at VIMEO: https://vimeo.com/channels/vedicritual